Wood flooring is an ever-popular choice for all sorts of homes. It's a timeless décor feature that will never go out of style, but a solid hardwood floor can be extremely expensive to buy and install. With this in mind, there are a number of alternative options that customers can opt for instead.

Engineered wood flooring is essentially an affordable, attractive alternative to solid wood flooring. The fact that it is engineered, rather than solid, should not be seen as a negative. Each board is made out of timber, but it consists of multiple layers. Each board is laid so the grain runs perpendicularly, thus ensuring that the wood cannot swell or shrink with changes in temperature or humidity. This increases the strength and stability of the floor, ensuring that it will last for years rather than months.

The top layer of the board (the lamella) will always be some sort of solid wood, usually a hardwood, and can be up to 6mm thick in some cases. The thicker the lamella, the more it can be sanded down and refinished if it needs to be. The lamella is then bonded to 1-2 further layers of soft plywood or something similar.

What are its benefits?

  • Engineered wood boards are much more stable than their solid wood counterparts, and can be cut in wider measurements for extra stability and a reduced likelihood of problems occurring with the floor as a whole.
  • They are also usually available pre-finished if you would rather not finish them yourself. This saves time and effort on your part, ensuring that the floor can be used as soon as it is installed.
  • Engineered wood is also a lot more flexible in terms of the methods that can be used to install it.
  • It can be used in any room of the house apart from a bathroom or wet room, as regular exposure to water or steam can age the wood significantly and reduce the number of years it can be used for.

What is the difference between engineered wood and laminate flooring?

The main positive for those who want a natural wooden floor is that the top layer of the engineered wood boards that everyone can see and walk on is actually wood. Laminate flooring is artificial, and while it may look like wood, the surface image is just that: a high-quality photographic image applied to an artificial board. The lower layers of both are pressed wood, not natural wood.

Narrow Strip Engineered Wood on Staircase

What are wood grades?

Wood grades essentially specify the quality of the wood in terms of the way it looks, taking into account the number of knots visible and the amount of filler used to treat sapwood defects.

  • A prime grade has barely any knots, and those that it does have will be extremely small. There will also be a very minimal amount of filler used, and little variation in the colour of the timber.
  • A select grade has small, infrequent knots and some variation in the colour of the wood. There may also be some visible checks (cracks across the growth rings). Filler will probably have been used, but should complement the colour of the wood.
  • A character or classic grade has a higher number of large knots and checks, along with some potential end shake (cracks between the growth rings). Filler will probably have been used, but should complement the colour of the wood.
  • A natural or rustic grade has a very high (almost limitless) number of knots and checks with probable end shake and a high amount of filler used that should complement the colour of the wood.

How do I install engineered wood flooring?

The floating floor installation method is most common as far as engineered wood flooring is concerned, as it is easily adapted and allows some room for movement and expansion of the boards (even though they should barely be expanding anyway). This is because the boards are fixed to each other rather than to the subfloor. The method also means that they can be easily taken up if necessary, lending itself well to commercial properties where wholesale changes may be made with a switch in ownership.

Engineered Walnut Floor in Comtemporary Space Image courtesy by: modernmagazin.com

Can I install it over an underfloor heating system?

The suitability of engineered wood flooring to use over an underfloor heating system is one of its main benefits. As previously noted, it is uniquely constructed to handle changes in temperature, so it is more than capable (especially if it has a lamella made of oak) of adjusting to a sudden increase and decrease in heat. Hardwood flooring, on the other hand, would not be suitable to use.

What sort of finish can I give it?

You can finish an engineered wood floor with either oil or lacquer. Some consider oil to be a more attractive option as it is able to penetrate the wood through the grain and bring out the rustic edge that it lends itself to so effectively. However, a lacquered floor is slightly easier to take care of than an oiled floor, which requires regular waxing and buffing to ensure that it always looks its best. With a lacquered floor you need only vacuum and dust to keep it looking spick and span, using a mist spray bottle if wet cleaning is required.

How long does it last?

The life of an engineered wood floor varies depending on how quickly foot traffic and other factors wear down the lamella so that the ply underneath begins to show through. The finish you choose will influence the speed with which surface wear appears as well. Individual planks can be replaced if you wish, but will obviously look newer and not match the overall floor. Warranties can last for up to fifty years, demonstrating the wood’s durability.

Can I purchase sustainable engineered wood flooring?

Whether you are able to purchase sustainable engineered wood flooring will depend on where the retailer you are planning to buy from has sourced the wood. The flooring should be marked as FSC or PEFC-certified on the website - the two organisations are the largest and most influential forestry regulators in the world, ensuring that everything from workers' rights and the responsible management of global forests to the maintenance of biodiversity and ecologically vital areas. If there are any doubts about where the wood has been harvested from, double-check with the retailer.